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The Upshot with Dr Zulfikar

The Upshot with Dr. Zulfikar Yurnaidi: Unlocking Renewable Energy Infrastructure through Regional Cooperation in Asia

The Upshot is a content series by Infrastructure Asia to profile key leaders in the industry. We dive deep into their areas of expertise to present expert opinions and thought-provoking perspectives on the most pertinent aspects of sustainable infrastructure development.

Asia is making significant strides in its renewable energy transition, marked by substantial investment and commitment from its countries. Countries must collaborate more closely on shared knowledge and resources for decarbonisation to be accelerated across the region.

To better understand how Asia can accelerate its energy transition, Infrastructure Asia spoke with Dr. Zulfikar Yurnaidi, Manager of Energy Modelling, Policy, and Planning at the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) to understand how collaboration can contribute to regional energy security while balancing diverse interests and sustainable development goals.


Harnessing the power of diverse renewables in Asia in phases

Dr. Yurnaidi noted a growing trend in countries incorporating multiple renewable energy projects into their long-term power development plans. Cambodia's unveiling of its first-ever Power Development Masterplan 2022-2040 (PDP) exemplifies this commitment. The plan aims to significantly boost solar, hydropower, and biomass capacity, supplemented by imports from Laos and Thailand. Vietnam’s Power Development Plan 8 (PDP8) and Thailand’s National Energy Plan (NEP) are also examples of power generation and energy usage strategies in the region.

Underscoring the importance of diverse power sources for achieving net zero, Dr. Yurnaidi emphasised, "We cannot rely on one or two solutions for a sustainable future. The journey to net zero requires recognising the inherent value of various resources and understanding that the energy transition will be in phases." Due to the relatively young age of the region's infrastructure compared to more developed markets (Asia’s coal plants average 15 years compared to Europe’s 50-60 years), a phased approach to decarbonisation is more appropriate. Dr. Yurnaidi advocates for a transitional approach that initially shifts from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy sources such as natural gas, before moving to options like hydrogen when it becomes more viable in the future. This phased approach is crucial to avoid jeopardising energy security by abruptly shutting down existing coal plants before sufficient and stable renewable energy capacity is made available.

Guided by the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) Phase II, the region aims to achieve a 23% share of renewables in its total primary energy supply (TPES) by 2025. Dr. Yurnaidi said that while each country has its own targets and strategies, there is great value in pushing for a regional approach, particularly in the renewable sector. "This means optimising the diverse renewable resources across ASEAN; tapping into regions near the Mekong such as Laos or Cambodia which are more abundant in hydropower, while harnessing the potential of solar energy in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia,” he explained.


Enhancing Asia’s renewable energy systems through collaboration

Interconnecting power grids is a crucial strategy to strengthen Southeast Asia's energy security and drive the shift towards renewable energy. By enabling electricity trade and balancing renewable energy generation across the region, these grids boost efficient resource sharing. The long-term vision of ASEAN is to integrate the national power systems of its member states, and with encouraging progress, this could become a reality soon.

Dr. Yurnaidi raised the successful transmission of renewable energy from Lao People’s Democratic Republic to Singapore via Thailand and Malaysia as a milestone in the region’s cross-border electricity trade. The successful power integration project not only demonstrates effective cross-border energy transmission but is a crucial step forward in the broader development of the ASEAN Power Grid (APG).

This regional initiative focuses on improving connections, enhancing energy security, and promoting sustainability through existing electricity links. "Without interconnections, countries like Singapore, which do not have abundant natural resources and land space, will be unable to reach net zero," Dr. Yurnaidi added.

The ASEAN Interconnection Masterplan Study (AIMS) III paves the way for this future, outlining the necessary transmission infrastructure to facilitate multilateral power trade and integrate renewable energy into the APG. ACE helps by developing feasibility studies and ensuring financial viability through collaborative partnerships between public and private sectors.

Dr. Yurnaidi pointed out that the benefits of interconnectivity extend beyond cleaner energy, emphasising its crucial role in enhancing security. "Greater diversification equals increased security,” he added. On a broader scale, he sees regional power integration supporting renewable energy development in multiple ways. By aggregating output across vast geographic areas, deploying a mix of renewable technologies, and reducing the variability of renewable power supply, this collaborative approach bolsters system resilience and paves the way for a more sustainable energy future.

Through interconnectivity, Dr. Yurnaidi believes that Asian countries can better harness their diverse resources, accelerate the transition to clean energy, and ensure sustainable energy security for generations to come.
 

Shoring up regional energy security

Maintaining a delicate balance between increasing regional cooperation and reducing dependence on energy imports is imperative for ASEAN. By 2025, it is estimated that Asia will account for half of the world’s electricity consumption by 2025. However, Dr. Yurnaidi noted that the region's current renewable energy capacity falls short of meeting this growing demand, resulting in continued reliance on the global energy market.

As such, he emphasised the importance of diversification for both cleaning up energy and ensuring security. While reducing reliance on imports accelerates the journey towards achieving net zero, the primary objective is sustained through regional collaboration. He noted, "Our ambition over the next 10 to 20 years, especially with the anticipated surge in renewable energy demand—like solar, potentially increasing by 50 times—is to transform from mere consumers to industry players. This strategic shift is essential to shield ourselves from global market fluctuations and actively shape our future energy landscape." Building industries such as battery storage and attracting investment from electric vehicle (EV) makers are crucial steps to strike this balance and position the region as an active player in the evolving energy landscape.
 

The road ahead

One of the trends that Dr. Yurnaidi observed is the region’s shifting emphasis on managing energy demand aside from expanding its supply. He explained, "We are shifting the conversation to demand because we understand that supply is not infinite." This is where digitalisation, energy management systems, and smart applications become crucial tools for optimising energy usage.

With the rise of distributed generation in Asia, Dr. Yurnaidi also highlighted the new challenges of coordinating and storing diverse energy sources. Additionally, managing waste from solar panels and EV batteries requires innovative solutions. Addressing these critical issues is essential for Asia's successful decarbonisation journey.

Cohesive, coordinated efforts across borders and within both public and private sectors are crucial for realising Asia's decarbonisation goals. “This collaboration necessitates organisations like ACE and Infrastructure Asia, which play a vital role in identifying potential projects and attracting investors who want to be involved," Dr. Yurnaidi noted. He said that these organisations, with their on-the-ground experience and expertise, can help shape new energy transition partnerships and steer away from disrupting economic growth and displacing workers.

The active roles of individual countries, coupled with collective efforts, position Asia as a transformative force in the global energy landscape. By actively working together, Asia can create a sustainable impact that surpasses individual endeavours. The call to action is clear. Through regional cooperation, Asia can navigate challenges, drive innovation, and collectively shape a future defined by sustainable energy practices.

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